All of October, we’re partnering with Period Movement to bring awareness to Menstrual Equality and how we can be more informed when it comes to not only our cycles, but those of every woman’s across the USA and the world. We’re lucky to have Nina Sarhan and Taia Strachan from Period Movement here to answer all our questions and school us on ending period poverty and period stigma.
Tell us about your organization!
PERIOD is a global youth-run nonprofit that strives to provide and celebrate menstrual hygiene through service, education, and advocacy — through the global distribution of period products to those in need, and engagement of youth leadership through a nationwide network of campus chapters. In the last two years, we have addressed over 700,000 periods and we have registered over 500 chapters in all 50 states and 30 countries.
Can you explain exactly what “Menstrual Equality” is?
So ‘period poverty’ specifically refers to the lack of access to menstrual products that many people who get a period around the world face each and every day. This lack of access affects so many parts of an individual's life - from the ability to receive consistent education to from being unable to participate in daily activities. In many parts of the US and around the world, lack of access can also lead to power dynamics involving sexual and physical violence when menstrual products are not freely available and easily accessible to all. The fight for menstrual equity aims to address period poverty and the intersectional issues that both stem from and encompass period poverty overall.
And for those who don’t know, can you give us some examples of period poverty and period stigma?
Have you ever left school, or work, in the middle of the day because you bled through your pants, and did not have access to products in time, or enough products to get through the day? Period poverty is that - but on a longer-term scale. It could look like anything from a young girl dropping out of school early because she started her period and doesn’t have access to products, or it could look like living out of your car and having to choose between food or tampons. Period poverty often goes unaddressed in relation to other types of poverty simple due to the taboo and shame surrounding periods. This is period stigma - the taboo surrounding even talking about periods (which is one of the MOST NATURAL AND NORMAL THINGS WE COULD BE DISCUSSING!) which therefore keeps so many people from asking for help, or asking for products to be provided in places where they are lacking. Period stigma also makes it harder for legislative change - if no one is talking about it because they’re so taboo- how can we expect laws to be changed? Talking about periods and period poverty is the first step to address period stigma and to help break that taboo.
We know you’ve done some work at the ICE detention centers at the border, can you tell us about that!
The conditions at these ‘detention centers’ are more than poor. They are abusive. When Nadya (founder of Period Movement) and I first read the report of migrant women being forced to bleed through their clothes, our hearts broke. We knew that we needed to take direct action and get period products down to these detention centers as soon as possible. Thanks to our amazing brand partners, we were able to secure product donations specifically for our migrant and refugee sisters.
However, as we quickly found out, ICE agents do not allow any products, including period products, into detention centers because they classify anything coming in as “contraband.” After researching through our network of partners, were were able to find this incredible community collective of nonprofits who specifically are focused on getting healthcare and basic hygiene products to refugees and migrants both coming out of ICE detention centers and living in camps at the border. After connecting with this network, it was clear how much we underestimated the lack of access to basic needs. Not only do these detention centers lack products, but there hundreds of makeshift camps set up on the Mexico side of the US Mexico border, where there are 50k+ people there at any point in time who have no access to basic needs like menstrual products.
So you’re really on the ground finding ways to provide tampons and pads, and you’re also advocating in Washington to end taxation on period products, which are considered a luxury item! When and WHY did they start being taxed as luxury items?
We’d have to do some research with the IRS for exactly when this tax came into effect, but it comes down to the classification itself rather than the tax of menstrual products. All products are either classified as an essential good or as a luxury good. Luxury goods are products that have been deemed as non-essential by the US Government. As for why, well…..most lawmakers are men. People who don't get their periods might not automatically think about what else may need to fall in the category of essential goods, like Tampons and Pads. Also makes sense why Rogaine and Viagra ARE classified as “essential products” - if the people in power making laws and decisions don’t get a period - it doesn’t seem essential to them.
Do you know the overall amount of money collected by the US government from on Tampon Tax a year?
So if we assume a high sales tax - let’s say 7% sales tax - and your box of tampons cost $6.99, that’s about 50 cents of sales tax going directly to the government. The average menstruator will have 450 periods in their lifetime. Using my basic math skills, that’s about $225 per menstruator that goes straight to the US Government to pay for items outlined in their budget.
So, we clearly agree and believe that tampons and pads are a basic human right in places like prisons, detention centers and schools. Do you believe that tampons should be covered by health insurance?
No, but they should be covered by the government just like food stamps. Reclassifying these products is one of the main goals in the fight for menstrual equity. Because they are in this class of luxury items, not only are they taxed, but they are left out of government programs like SNAP and WIC which provide other basic needs like food, diapers, and baby formula. We need to start treating menstrual products just like we do toilet paper. We don’t ask our health insurance to cover our cost of toilet paper, because it is provided and accepted globally as a basic human need. To get to this place, the first step is getting rid of the tampon tax by reclassifying period products as essential items, allowing them to be available in government programs. From there, it’s about helping everywhere from our employers to shelters and prisons to see menstrual products as a basic human right.
At Suiheart Club we believe self-care doesn’t have a gender, that we all deserve to care for ourselves and work on raising our awareness. That being said, why is the Period Movement important for guys? How does menstrual equality affect men?
Menstrual equity is not just a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue which impacts menstruators’ health, education, economic, and professional prospects. We need to end period poverty to fight for a future that has more gender equality and equity. Men can help by taking action in their communities alongside menstruators. Be open to having a conversation and don’t respond with disgust or awkwardness when presented with the topic of periods. Treat them as a natural and normal part of the human experience.
It is extremely important that we try our best to be as inclusive as possible when fighting for menstrual equity. While the majority of menstruators are women and girls, not all women menstruate, and not all menstruators are women. Some may be past menopause, and past the age of menstruating. Or, they might get their period and identify as transgender men or nonbinary. It is important to think about gender inclusivity in all aspects of the movement for gender equality, and especially within the menstrual movement.
As a girlfriend, or wife, or mother, sister, aunt etc to a man, what advice could you give us for how to include our male loved-ones in the conversation?
Menstrual equity is about gender equity. Plain and simple. And to get men into the conversation, it’s important to present it to men as a gender equality issue, and to also emphasize the fact that when MEN speak out on this issue, it makes much more of an impact on other men or other people who wouldn't normally care about periods or period poverty. Helping men realize the privileged position they are in when it comes to this issue and how it relates further back to gender equality overall can help gain non-menstruating allies in this fight.
How can someone become involved in supporting your movement?
The best and most immediate way to get involved is by attending a National Period Day rally in your state on October 19th, 2019, and rallying for period equity! There are a ton of other ways to get involved too. From starting a chapter to hosting and packing party or product drive, you can find out more at period.org/get-involved
Period Movement has partnered with companies like Lyft and Doordash to send tampons into areas of need, and has gotten some major corporate partners to come on board. If someone works for a large company or owns a business and wants to help on a corporate level, how can they be of help?
You can email Nina at firstname.lastname@example.org! We have partnerships with other non-profits in order to assist each other in grassroots mobilization efforts, as well as partnerships with brands large and small, and media and community platforms.
Thank you so much for educating us on this super important topic. Make sure you follow @periodmovement for more information !